“Going on” in Christ—Freedom to Boast in Christ: Galatians 6.11-18

Go ahead. Boast a little … Your kids behaving themselves? Good thing. Have you won a basketball game? Avoided an accident? Had something especially good to eat lately? A good coffee, maybe? Or, caught a really big fish this week? … All good stuff. But, is this all worth boasting about?

Paul draws together all the arguments from his letter to the Galatians with one, powerful, concrete, wonderfully terrible image: But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (6.14, ESV).

My only boast is in Christ who makes me a new creation through the Gospel. 

That’s a hard teaching when there’s so many big fish and near accidents and good coffees that delight us. Do I have to put away all the “good” things of life to think rightly and only of Jesus?

We struggle here, because we forget (or, don’t properly believe) where we’ve come from. In (even before) the beginning, God existed. Holy unto Himself. Like consuming fire, He will not suffer the presence of sin. For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12.29, from Deut 4). He, our same God, created a world and a people through His eternal Son. For by him all things were created … all things were created through him and for him (Col 1.15). We sin, and by all rights will be obliterated, removed from God’s presence—no pleasure to follow, nothing good, nothing we were made to enjoy, certainly not God’s presence. That’s now bedrock reality, Ground Zero for sinful humanity.

How does God respond? By sending His Son who meets us. Where? At the cross. And, in a way I struggle to get my mind around, we, those He’s called to Himself by faith, died with Jesus on that very cross. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live (2.20a) … And, then, in a way still more profound, we were raised with Jesus to share his life. … the life I life I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (2.20b).

Then, on Monday of this week, our friend Adam catches a big fish. And, he lets my boys hold it. And, we’re so happy! Now … who gets the credit for our happiness? Where was that happiness bought? … At the CROSS!

Now, when we boast, we brag, rejoice, glory and exult in the work of Jesus. And, we do this as new creations, free to enjoy the good of this world, because at the cross Jesus bought back those pleasures for his people.

“Every legitimate pleasure is a means to a higher end” (C.S. Lewis). The end, Paul would add, of boasting in Christ’s work, at the cross.

“Every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes an evidence of blood-bought Calvary love and an occasion for boasting in the cross” (John Piper, 2000).

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim 4.4). In other words, at the cross.

So, parents, kids do their homework and their chores this week? Celebrate! Kids, win a game recently? Jump for joy! Taken in a steaming, hot and strong cup of coffee or cup of chocolate recently? Give thanks. But, remember where the pleasure comes from. And, boast like crazy. In Christ, because of his work, at the cross.

Find a friend and think about these questions from Galatians 6.11-18:

How does this passage change the way you think about those things you’re excited about? 

Why is it so hard to get your mind around the idea of any kind of boasting as a positive thing? (It might help to note that in its 37 uses this word is alternatively translated in the ESV as “brag, rejoice, exult, or glorify”.

Do I really believe that God is holy and I am undeserving of His presence? How does the power of the cross depend on starting in the right place in thinking about God and myself? 

How does Paul’s logic apply to pain in this world as well? The same word is used in Rom 5.3-4. How might Christ’s work be significant in our pain, just as it is in our pleasure, and why might we boast in our suffering?

Noting Paul’s reference to the insignificance of circumcision (the sign of being under law), and noting Gal 5.6 as well, how might boasting in Christ free me to love and serve others? 

Noting Paul’s closing of the letter in Gal 6.17, how does boasting in Christ leave a mark? 

 

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Going on in Christ—Freedom to Love and Serve: Galatians 5.25-6.10

Wood heat … simple. The process in getting those snow-soaked logs stacked in the basement … less so.

Likewise, the first time I and my three children (those old enough to toss a log of firewood) set out to fill our basement, the goal was simple enough: stack wood in the basement. The process proved less so—break loose the frozen logs, stack them on our wooden sled, slide them across the yard, push them down the chute to our basement, and stack them in the basement. Simple enough, it would seem.

But, human nature turned up. “Topping” proved the most enjoyable, and so got done the quickest. “Hauling” turned out to be the most tedious, and so barely got done at all. After hands froze, nobody wanted to work outside. And, the job took too long and only got done after I’d schnertzed a bit at everybody.

At our second attempt, more recently this winter, we rethought the matter—match our strengths to our roles, but then use our strengths to help each other. Seven year-old Henry topped. I hauled and carried, of course. Ten year-old Jack pushed logs down the chute. Almost-teenager Katja stacked the wood. If one got ahead of the other, he or she would slide other to cover the other’s weakness. We caught a rhythm and found freedom in relationship. The wood got stacked, and we got warm, in the end. This was love and service in the Northwoods world of necessity.

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This week at Woodland, we are, at long last, come to Paul the Apostle’s discussion of relationships in light of the Gospel. What does freedom look like in relationships? 

As in last week’s passage, we will ” … keep in step with the Spirit” (5.25). But, relational freedom involves others. And, walking in the Spirit with others in mind turns out to involve the giving up of “conceit” (5.26, ESV). Paul’s qualifiers show us that conceit involves the person who “provokes” another—the kind of man who positions himself in the right circles, so as to guard his turf. Appearing to have a high self-esteem, this man really lives in bondage to the way he feels others think of him. Conceit, likewise, involves the other sort of person who envies—the kind of woman who feels ill-will toward the advantage of others. Having low self-esteem, this woman (or man) holds a grudge, so as to avoid releasing her claim on those who have hurt her. Both kinds of people live in dependence to what others think of them. Neither is free to love and serve. Both live under “law”.

By contrast, freedom in Christ means that we no longer depend on other people to validate us. Instead, we depend on Christ, and His Spirit helps us love and serve without fear. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (6.2). Freedom in relationship then involves restoring one another, resting in Christ’s sufficiency, and remembering that God’s opinion of us is all that matters. Freedom in relationship, likewise, involves freedom to love and serve generously … for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (6.7).

Freedom in relationship looks like freedom to love and serve fearlessly and generously in the power of the Spirit. 

At the end of the day (pictured, I believe, by the “load” of 6.5, the judgment or opinion of God), only the opinion of God regarding our lives matters. Refusing to be in bondage to either the praise or criticism of others opens vistas of freedom for love and service. When we walk by the Spirit we’re able to go on with Christ in our relationships with other without fear, because God’s opinion matters more than that of other people.

Find a friend or small group and consider these questions:

What are some concepts in our study of Galatians thus far that have “pushed” you, in either your understanding of the Christian life or your ability to live them out?

 

Are any of these ideas unclear to you? 

 

Have you ever thought of the idea of “conceit” as involving both inflated self-esteem and low self-esteem? What common root do you find in both of these social sins?

 

Why is there freedom in considering God’s opinion of me once I’ve trusted in Christ? How is this the opposite of “conceit”?

 

Where have you, personally, found freedom in your life as a result of considering the opinion of God? How has this freed you to love and serve without fear? 

 

How does “bearing one another’s burdens” fulfill the Law of Christ? 

 

Where do you need to love and serve as a result of your freedom in relationship? 

 

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Going on in Christ—Freedom from “License”: Gal 5.13-24

Battle! That’s what we get when we move out in Christian freedom.

Last week at Woodland, we discussed how the Gospel, rightly applied, leads to freedom from law—the sense that we must do something to be right with God. This week, we learn that the same gospel frees us from license—the sense that we’re okay, just the way we are; the impression that we can live any way we want to live.

Freedom from license means victory over sin by the power of the Spirit. 

The right image is the battle. And, this battle requires preparation (verses 13-15). Now, being free in Christ, we’re not to serve the “flesh”—that part of us that still seeks to save ourselves apart from Christ; that aspect of our yet unredeemed selves that sits at the center of an elaborate program of self-salvation. If we do, we’ll “bite” and “devour” one another. Picture a snake pit!

Instead, we’re to use our freedom to fulfill the Law of Christ: Love your neighbor as yourself (Deut 19; Matt 22). But, how?

Have you ever noticed how often, when God give His people something to do, the Spirit turns up? But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (verse 16). This image shows how we’re to yield to the Spirit of God in the midst of the battle. Like an ancient student walking alongside and following the lead of his teacher, we’re to follow the lead of God’s Spirit, the warm, personal, reassuring presence of Christ in us (4:6). Yielding to His leadership reminds us that, while we don’t do anything to earn salvation, there is effort in the Christian life. Our role takes the form of cooperation with the Spirit of God who helps us in the confusion of the battle.

Note the language of desire. While we in our dim passions might fumble around in our opposition to the Spirit, His Spirit opposes our flesh (verses 16-18). Confusion results, as in a battle. But, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law (verse 18). The Spirit will prevail in those who respond to God’s Spirit with the well-known “fruit” of the Spirit as evidence.

Putting ourselves in the place to yield to the Spirit is then the key. Recognizing that we can’t achieve freedom in the Christian life on our own, we still have to put ourselves in the place for the Spirit to work on us. You can’t fall asleep by trying, but it sure helps to be in bed. Maybe, your mechanic alone can fix your car, but you still need to take it to the shop. Call it “aggressive-passivity,” maybe.

Practically, yielding to the Spirit will look like meeting with God in His Word, the Spirit’s chosen theatre of operation. Yielding to the Spirit will likewise involve preaching the Gospel to ourselves: we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ, not our goodness through self-effort in our circumstances. Those who follow the Spirit’s lead will grow in the Spirit’s fruit and take on His desires. Having … crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (verse 24), their Christian experience of freedom will begin to match their new identity in Christ.

We will know victory in the battle with the flesh!

Find a friend and consider the following questions:

How does this passage, as well as previous passages in Galatians, show that the Spirit replaces the former work of the Old Testament Law? 

What does this section tell us about the “normal” Christian life? What part does desire play in the Christian experience? 

In the language of this passage, what is really happening when we, however briefly, choose to sin? 

What do you think about the idea of “aggressive-passivity”? What does God do in bringing about our Christian freedom? What do we do? 

How is this discussion about Christian freedom different than a discussion about trusting Christ for salvation? (Hint: think of the difference between entering the Christian life and “going on” as we grow in Christ.)

Why is spending time in God’s Word so critical in knowing Christian freedom?

How do we go about preaching the Gospel to ourselves? What are some “Gospel-problem” areas in your life? (think: last week’s message) where you might preach the Gospel to yourself? 

Going on in Christ—Freedom from Law: Galatians 5.1-12

What’s your Gospel problem? That place where you know stress. That area to which you’re most inclined to respond with sleeplessness, sleeping too late, working too much, irritability.

That could be your Gospel problem.

By the time the Apostle Paul comes to Galatians 5:1-12, he’s made his case in the letter: we enter the Christian life by grace through faith in Christ, and we go on the Christian life by grace through faith in Christ. It’s the “going on” part his Galatian readers struggled with. Taking on the mark of circumcision indicated a half-hearted, fire insurance, “Jesus-and” kind of dependence on Christ. Paul’s bad news: “… Christ will be of no advantage to you (verse 2) … You are severed from Christ (verse 4).” Might as well try to keep the whole Law while you’re at it, Paul chided (verse 3). Might as well finish the circumcision job like a pagan idol worshipper, for all the good circumcision will do you (verse 12; Deut 23.1) … Owiee!

Jesus, plus nothing, equals everything, he’d have them know.

Like the Galatians, freedom from law, for us, means relying on the work of Jesus and refusing to return to self-effort. Far from demanding more of us, Christ asks us to “stand firm” (verse 1) in His work, His righteousness, His relationship with us. We’re sons and heirs, after all. Then, we’re not to “submit again” to that drive to please Him through self-effort (verse 1b). Freedom results, to which we’re helped by the hope of salvation at Christ’s return and the continuing guidance of His Spirit, reminding us that it’s all true (verses 2-6). And then, when we fail (and we will sometimes, like the yeast works its way through all the dough), we return again to the work of Jesus (verses 7-12) … freedom!

All this is why Galatians is such a fantastic book for growing Christians, and why our Bibles should fall open to its well-worn pages. Trusting Christ isn’t a “one-and-done”. We all have our Gospel problems where we need to return to the work of Christ, again.

Find a group and discuss these questions as they relate to the passage and your life:

Why is it significant that the believer must only “stand firm” in her position in Christ? (Why do you think that it is that Paul doesn’t ask us to do something to experience freedom? 

Why is it so easy to return to self-effort and rule-keeping? What does Jesus offer in exchange for our best results? (Consider Matt 11.29-30)

Give your own paraphrase of Gal 5.2. How does the work of Christ prove to be of no benefit to the one who insists on coming to God through his own self-effort? 

What do verses 5-6 tell us about the normal Christian life? Whom do we rely on while we wait for that moment when in Christ’s presence we will be acknowledged as RIGHTEOUS!

What are some ways that we lose our freedom in Christ? What are your own personal indicators that you are trusting in someone or something other than Christ? 

Freedom through Weakness: Galatians 4.21-5.1

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Old Woman on Tashirojima by Nic Walker on Flikr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This week we Americans received a new president. Amidst the bluster about greatness (again) through strength, we just might be forgetting what it means to be free.

This week at Woodland, we’ll consider freedom. Not a nation state, but an outpost of the Kingdom of God, where do we, as American Christians, really find our freedom?

Paul’s brilliant little allegory, found in Galatians 4.21-5.1, recounts and recasts the story of two boys, and their mothers. Set against the story of Genesis 15-21, we remember Abraham and Sarai, old and nearly infirm, expecting, of all things, a son. Not able to take God at His word, they went the route of strength: find the young and vibrant Hagar, bring about a son in the usual way, assume this is what God had in mind. But God would have none of it. “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Gen 17.19). Then, later, “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal 4.30). Not that God didn’t care for Ishmael and his mother, but they would not inherit. Apparently, strength counts for nothing in God’s economy.

The reversal, in Paul’s recounting of Israel’s core narrative, requires us to consider whom we identify with. Will we come to God through strength, human ingenuity, cleverness, the natural advantages to belittle those without means—just as Hagar and Ishmael ridiculed Sarah and Isaac? Paul attaches Hagar and Ishmael to Mt. Sinai and the Mosaic Covenant, long the place of freedom from bondage in the Israelite imagination.

But, is Sinai really about freedom? While boasting of strength and will and moral might (Ex 24.3), Israel failed under the Law. Like Hagar and Ishmael failed before them. Like strength and human effort fail always. And, like you and I fail apart from Christ. Sinai, along with the earthly Jerusalem, is really about slavery and bondage.

Then, there’s Sarah and Isaac. Paul attaches them to the Abrahamic Covenant. Those who approach God in weakness and faith come as true sons of Abraham (3.7-9), as sons not slaves, as those who will inherit (4.28).

It’s always been so, and it was so with Christ. “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear” (Is 54.1). Paul’s quotation from the Servant Songs of Isaiah references (in Isaiah’s day) the One who would come to rule. Consider 54.1 in context, the verse just before, ” … he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (53.12). Paul’s tale of two mothers and sons is really about three sets of mothers and sons. But only one of the mothers, Sarah and her son, Isaac, anticipates Jesus and his mother, barren because she’d known no man.

Even including the rabbinic argumentation involving allegory and typology, Galatians 4.21-5.1 speaks to American Christians today. Where do we find our freedom, especially in an environment where we can expect downward mobility in culture, even ridicule?

Find a friend or group of friends and consider some questions from Galatians 4.21-5.1.

Looking outward—

Where do we as American Christians increasingly find ourselves in positions of natural disadvantage? 

How does this reaffirm us as New Covenant believers who are looking forward to the fulness of God’s Kingdom (Phil 3.20; Heb 12.22; Rev 3.12)?

Where does this passage point us as we seek freedom? 

Looking within our church family—

Does the circle of those we include in church events only include those who are like us? Or, does it include an eclectic variety of sinners united only by weakness and dependence on God? 

Do we allocate time to the kinds of problems we’d find in the middle of the newspaper—the crises in developing nations that seem far away? Or, are we only front page and sports page Christians? 

Do we continue to consider those who can’t care for themselves—the unborn, orphans, the mentally handicapped, refugees, children in our Sunday school program? 

“For” Life

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Sunday at Woodland we participate with Christ-followers around the nation in Sanctity of Life Sunday. Being “for” life means serving Christ and suffering for those in crisis in this world while in the face of an enemy.

Our lesson spans the human story and tells of death and life, in Creation … in Crisis … and in Christ. Death in Ezekiel 28 and the fall of the beautiful being who became Satan, but life in Genesis 2 and the mud-man who received God’s breath of life. Death in our first parents’ grasp for power in the fashion of God’s arch-enemy who desired power of his own, but life in God’s severe mercy in expelling our first parents from the Garden. Then, life in Christ himself, who came to put to death our need to find contrived power apart from God’s rightful rule.

It’s in thinking through our own imitation of Satan’s grasping after power like God’s that we have our connection to Sanctity of Life Sunday.

Ancient peoples were not unlike us. They found need to reap power from their circumstances, to appease whatever forces they thought would deliver. And, the better the sacrifice, the more the power. So goes the reasoning.

For Ancient Near Eastern Moabites, and even wayward Israelites, this meant (the horror of it!) sacrificing their children to Molech, or his Phoenician counterpart, Baal. What god could resist delivering rain or other necessities for such a sacrifice? More sophisticated, later Greeks and Romans abandoned their infants (particularly baby girls) in exchange for the power of stature in society. Consider the candidness of one Roman, Hilarion, in writing to his pregnant wife, “If you are delivered of a child before I come home, if it is a boy, keep it, if a girl, discard it …”

We haven’t come much further, and Ancients weren’t the fools we sometimes think them. For many today, the gods are just different—upward mobility, career advancement, affluence, leisure, education; the “good life”. All forms of power by some estimations. And, for a heart-rending many intent to tap these modern forces, the price of unborn life does not seem to high.

Enter Christ. Legitimate in power, He is Life itself (Jn 1:4, 5:26; 1 Jn 5:12). But, with Him also comes death: His (1 Pet 2:24); in a mysterious way, ours (Gal 2:20); and then, our desire to find power apart from Him (Rm 12:2), and even our shame in having dabbled or plunged into the culture of death (Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:20-21). Glory be!

Now, for those of us knowing life in Christ, being “for” life means going back into the crisis. There, filled with the Spirit and armed with the Gospel and prayer, we identity with the powerless—the unborn, but also their mothers, their fathers, their families. We consider that  pro-life is “whole-life” and include the mentally handicapped, the elderly, the refugee, the otherwise healthy children in our Sunday schools, powerless because they are children.

Ours is the blessed task of ministering the Gospel to see the powerless reconnected to the rightly rule of the Father. And, in identifying with the powerless, we suffer with them in the face of an enemy. It’s an old story. It is the story.

Questions for application and group discussion

Find a friend, or a group of friends, and consider the verses listed throughout the post. Then, consider these thought questions:

What persons or things die with the coming of Christ?

How is it possible for holiness and shame to grow side-by-side in the life of a Christian?

How does Satan use shame to debilitate in the life of a Christian? (1 Pet 5:18; Rev 12:2)

Why is it important to separate the (objective) guilt of sin that is forgiven when a person trusts Christ from the (subjective) sense of shame that results? (Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:20-21)

Who are the powerless my my/our web of relationships? 

What groups of people are being left out or overlooked in the church family where I/we serve? 

What would it look like for me to join with others in serving these groups and suffering with them?

Gospel versus Religion: Galatians 4:8-20

Sunday, at Woodland, we’ll return to Galatians—that deep, glorious study in the Gospel.

We’ll find Paul, in chapter 4:8-20, pleading again with his Galatian children in the faith. The Galatians have left Paul’s teaching—the Gospel itself—to follow new teachers who would re-cast the young, Galatian believers in their own image. Unless the Galatians return to the truth of the Gospel, their new life will involve the quest for self-salvation through religious ritual (verse 10), as well as subordinate status to their new instructors, who would turn them into special ministry projects, in order to elevate themselves (verse 17).

Paul’s message: the Gospel brings freedom; religion (as in Christless, self-salvation programs through works) brings bondage. 

For Paul and the Galatians, bondage looked like estrangement. Previously, Paul had known the Galatians during a season of personal weakness that involved physical disability (verse 13). Even, and especially, in weakness, he’d become like the Galatians (verse 12), and they’d received him and the Gospel message, willing even to sacrifice their own selves for Paul’s good (verse 15). Their mutual status together: shared freedom … blessedness! (verse  14).

All that had ended at the writing of the letter. Now, Paul felt the need to give birth to his Galatian children again! (verse 19). His desire to see them recast in Christ’s image (verse 19) would result in his own shared freedom in the Gospel with the Galatians. But, only if they’d abandon their self-salvation quest through religion to return to trust in Christ alone.

Paul’s message describing Gospel versus religion meets us at two levels. As individuals, we might not come, like the Galatians, from pagan idolatry, and we might not dabble in ritualistic religion. But, we all have our idols, because we all seek to save ourselves. Competency, respectability, order, a well-disciplined family. All are good, but as requirements for happiness in place of Jesus, they serve as means for self-salvation leading to bondage.

Then, in community, as the Galatians and their new teachers show us, religion means we won’t be content to attempt to save ourselves, we’ll also attempt to save others by our own effort. This is “minister’s disease,” and I, for one, get how it works: We start out serving, but somewhere along the way it becomes a program that is my idea, and I find myself exhausted. And then, because I’m exhausted, I expect others to come alongside me to exhaust themselves. And, when they don’t come, I get angry and build a case against them in my own heart …

Sound familiar? “Minister’s disease” will often be found in communities where there is no joy.

In response, we have the message of Galatians: Just as we have entered the Christian life by grace through faith in Christ, so we continue in the Christian life by grace through faith in Chris. And for us, as with Paul the Galatians, returning to the Gospel when we fail will mean shared ministry in freedom,”blessedness”.

Find a friend and have a look at Galatians 4:8-20.

Thinking of verses 8-11—

Why is religion even more dangerous than non-religion?

What idols (anything that is not Christ) are you tempted to use for your own happiness?

How does knowing that God knows you (verse 9) free you from the temptation to worship “idols”?

Thinking of verses 12-20—

Why should the Galatians have found Paul’s argument compelling?

What do these verse have to teach us about our dependences on each other as we serve one another? 

How should your Christian service change as a result of this passage? 

The Gospel brings freedom; religion brings bondage. 

Together in Blood

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A word of caution to my tender-hearted animal loving friends: pictures of chicken butchery will be found below. (Although there’s a good deal more pictures that can’t be shown.)

A quick peek into my human resume before this weekend would have revealed a distinct lack of experience in butchery of anything but fish. That changed on my first full day as pastor of Woodland Community Church, even before I’d set foot in the church building.

It was “meat bird” day at Mike’s, a church member. Forty birds awaited quick and humane sacrifice for the good of the human community. I’d known the plan for months and asked to be included.

Chickens had to be snatched from the pen, arranged on a stump, so that two nails would hold the head, quickly dispatched with a buck knife or machete, hung to bleed, submerged in boiling water, then run through the electric plucker that made feathers fly.

Nothing flippant or disrespectful about it. All serious, interesting, but very curious work. Fight revulsion by grabbing your first bird without thinking about it. Let your new friends teach you. Today’s the day for that. Tomorrow you’ll preach, but this bond in blood must first be entered.

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When I’d severed the head from my first animal, my new friend Mike grew suddenly serious. “Gives you a new understanding of what Old Testament sacrifice must have been like, doesn’t it?”

I stood with my bloody knife still in hand … It did. Blood had been spilled, and, as life is in the blood, life had been sacrificed for a higher cause.

We worked quickly then. Not much skill needed out in the yard. More skilled workers (than I) dressed and bagged the birds in the garage. I took a short turn there as well, so as to share in every part of the operation. A kind of joyful, serious fellowship grew throughout the afternoon. We shared lunch (chili, not chicken). I was, and remain, the stranger, then not yet two days in town. But, we’d shared something. They told me of the twenty acres down the road, for sale. “Maybe, you ought to look at it,” they said. Were they serious? I’m not sure …

As much as Saturday helped me know my Old Testament better, there’s New Testament truth here as well. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

There’s a fellowship for all who know Christ and His Gospel work. 

This bond includes knowledge of Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, carried out in blood and toward the higher purposes of the Father. For those united under Christ’s blood, there is serious but joyful work. Table fellowship will be found here. New members will join those who have grown up in the fellowship. There’s learning here, and humility.

And, for me, a new community. Sunday turned out to be good too, but Saturday made for a really grand start.

 

Intangibles …

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Unthinkable! … Like shootin’ Ol’ Yeller.

Last week we sold the Growing Up House, as we call it—the place we about promised (okay, planned) for our kids to grow up in. Still sorting out the emotions as I am, I’ll only recount the process.

Negotiations took place over three days. Our buyer started low, then showed earnestness as we went along. Finally, we were down to the last move. We weren’t where we’d thought we’d be. Not a bad deal, but not where people had told us we’d be. We held our ground. “Let him suck up the last thousand …”

Then, after our final counter-offer had been called in, but before it had been signed, a bubbling thought broke the surface: There’s intangibles at play here … like being together sooner in our rental up North … like having this business behind us before I move (solo) and begin pastoring Woodland Community Church … like not having to negotiate another deal while Amanda and I are six hours apart … like not contending with cell phones that barely work out in the woods … like not dragging Woodland through the winter with a pastor who has a house to sell … like joining my kids as we swim and fish and run wild in the North Woods …

Enough already! Let’s all pray about something else.

We were in the van just minutes before the deadline. I called it in … deal done.Then I texted in the final terms while sitting at my own, old wooden desk, now in the church library. Finally, I had myself a little cry …

The Christian life is filled with intangibles. Jesus said as much, Luke 16:9: ” … make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteousness wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” 

That passage is worthy of further study. Jesus isn’t being a push-over, a sucker. He’s not giving away the farm. In fact, He’s being shrewd, but in a currency that counts for eternity. Jesus is talking about the intangibles that can’t be bought, sold, measured or valued in our everyday economy. An earthly fortune won’t get you to the table in a deal for the intangibles.

We won’t be richer over this deal. Oh, but, the more I think about this, the more I think we made out like bandits, in what really matters.

Assuming this deal goes through, we’ve cut the flotsam and gotten back to people. Sunday, I’ll worship with our new church family. Amanda will pack up the house and join me in October. The kids are aufgepumpt (all pumped up) about life in our delightful snowbird-family rental on Rib Lake.

It’s all eyes forward. It’s life lived in the intangibles.

 

Grace for the Next Thing

 

Sunday we said good-bye.

That’s farewell to Faith Bible Church, the church that found us nine years ago when we were younger and vulnerable and looked terrible on paper. (At our first contact with Pastor Steve and Faith, Amanda had taken the two babies and gone to her mother in Wisconsin. I’d remained in Germany to finish the mission work and was sleeping nights in my tent—just for fun, but also because students filled the mission building.) Other churches thought us missionary burn-outs, I’m sure.

Faith found us. Now, after nine years have passed like the sucking sound of the midnight express, it’s time to say good-bye.

I expected seventy-five people to turn up for our potluck. But, our church family filled the place. I’d planned a little speech of gratitude. But, I got overwhelmed and forgot most of it. Amanda too. It was just too much love and gratitude … Probably best. It was about the nine years, and not to be a swan song. And, it wasn’t about us at all, not really.

Here’s what I meant in my teary-eyed little speech:

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 1:21-24, shows his heart to the Philippians—For to me is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 

Lots about this doesn’t apply to me, right now—not contemplating dying, at the moment, and not staying, to name two. But, something strikes me here, something that ties me to the Apostle:

We both know what it is to want more than one thing.

In a profound way, we don’t want to depart Iowa and Faith Bible. We love the church that has grieved and celebrated with us, watched us bring home babies, and shared our personal tragedies and joys. We like our solid little Craftsman home and will dearly miss our walks and our life in our charming and historic neighborhood.

But, we want something else. We want to follow the Lord’s leading to our new church family in Westboro/Rib Lake, Wisconsin. We want to add the family of Woodland Community Church to the big, joyful, collective family made up of all those we’ve known and loved.

But, right now, between the two, this death and rebirth feels like grief.

And that’s life between Christ’s two comings. Someone dies, a baby is born. In order to arrive, we have to leave. We can’t have everything, and we can’t even have more than one thing, sometimes.

But, we can have grace for the next thing. The present thing. But, to know that grace there has to be a giving up. Paul said as much, in Acts 20:24, as the Ephesian elders wept at his parting—But, I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course in the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

There’s single-mindedness there. And, if I’ve learned anything from my Faith Bible family, there is joy in the doing of it. And, in the doing of it, there’s a longing for Christ’s coming when all our desires will be joined.

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